Myanmar women and children living with HIV doing well but adolescents and young people still at serious HIV and AIDS risk
YANGON, 29 November 2013 – On the occasion of the global release of the new 2013 Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS, UNICEF, WHO and UNAIDS have lauded the success of mother-to-child transmission programs witnessing more than 850,000 infants being saved from HIV infection globally (from 2005 – 2012) including in Myanmar. At the same time, they have called for more to be done to assist Myanmar adolescents and young people, citing the need for increased national efforts to address HIV and AIDS among this vulnerable age group.
"We know that an AIDS-free generation is within our reach and it can start with children. To create an AIDS-free generation we first need to identify women living with HIV, help them prevent transmission during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and ensure they remain healthy beyond,” said Mr Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative in Yangon.
Thanks to new, simplified life-long antiretroviral treatment (known as Option B+), there is now a greater opportunity to effectively treat women living with HIV and to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies during pregnancy, delivery, and through breastfeeding. This treatment involves a daily regime of taking one tablet only.
Globally an estimated 210,000 children died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2012 – an entirely preventable statistic. “Once HIV infected mums get the help they need and have a right to, we then need to find out the HIV status of their babies by 2 months of age and quickly start antiretroviral drug treatment if they are infected. Doing so gives them the best start possible in life and often prevents children from dying from the disease,” said Dr Jigmi Singay, Acting WHO Representative in Myanmar.
“The Myanmar Government, non-government organisations, development partners and The Global Fund have made a tremendously positive impact on preventing mother-to-child transmission in Myanmar”, said Mr Eamonn Murphy, Country Coordinator, UNAIDS Myanmar. In 2012, antiretroviral drugs were provided to 69 per cent of pregnant Myanmar women living with HIV. The introduction of innovative technologies like point-of-care HIV screening in 2013 has further increased this coverage. However, only less than one in ten children born to pregnant women living with HIV receive a virological test within 2 months of age. It is crucial to increase this coverage in Myanmar so children living with HIV can get started on anti-retoviral drugs and thereby mitigate the risk of dying from AIDS. UNICEF, WHO and UNAIDS collectively advise that in order to successfully save babies and children from this illness, the Myanmar Government must now focus on ensuring both testing and counselling is readily available in pediatric care facilities across the country - especially in townships with a high prevalence of HIV.
But while the prognosis for women and children living with HIV in Myanmar is looking brighter every day, the same can’t yet be said for adolescents and young people. Globally, AIDS-related deaths among adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 increased by 50 per cent between 2005 and 2012, rising from 71,000 to 110,000. There were approximately 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV in 2012. The prevalence of HIV among higher risk populations below the age of 25 years in Yangon is high (13.3% among people who inject drugs, 5.9% among sex workers and 4.5% among men who have sex with men). While condom use is up among higher risk populations below the age of 25, only a small proportion are getting HIV tested. This includes less than one in three who inject drugs, about two out of three sex workers, and less than half of men who have sex with men. “The Myanmar Government must increase services for HIV testing and reduce barriers to access to services with a specific focus on adolescents and young people among key affected populations,” said Mr Bainvel. “With additional funding and increased investment in innovation, many lives can easily be saved,” added Mr Murphy. “If high-impact interventions are scaled up using an integrated approach, we can halve the number of new infections among adolescents by 2020 - it’s a matter of reaching the most vulnerable adolescents with effective programmes – urgently,” added Dr Singay. Launched in time for World AIDS Day 2013, WHO’s recommendations “HIV and adolescents: Guidance for HIV testing and counselling and care for adolescents living with HIV” are the first to address the specific needs of adolescents both for those living with HIV as well as those who are at risk of infection.
High-impact interventions include condoms, antiretroviral treatment, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, communications for behaviour change, and targeted approaches for at-risk and marginalized populations. This is in addition to investments in other sectors such as education, social protection and welfare, and strengthening health systems.
Ending discrimination against people living with HIV is also an imperative for addressing this disease. In Myanmar it continues to be very important to remove all policies, services and societal discrimination against vulnerable families, their children and people living with HIV/AIDS. Discrimination can further drive the epidemic underground and make it increasingly more difficult to control.
The Global Report released today is a good reminder for the people of Myanmar that these days, even if a pregnant woman is living with HIV, it doesn’t mean her baby must have the same fate, and it doesn’t mean ‘mum and bub’ can’t lead a healthy life. The challenge now is to apply the knowledge that already exists, continue to focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized children, adolescents and young people, and pursue new opportunities and innovations. The world now has the experience and the tools to achieve an AIDS-free generation. Children, adolescents and young people must be the first to benefit from our successes in defeating HIV, and the last to suffer when we fall short. [Ends]
For a copy of the 2013 Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS visit www.unicef.org.
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For more information please contact:
Kirsten Sjolander, Interim-in-Charge, Communication Section, UNICEF Myanmar, Tel: +95 9 421 177 294 (m), firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ye Lwin Oo, Communication Officer, Communication Section, UNICEF Myanmar, 09 511 3295 (m).